Experts Say Government Support for Nigerian Media Will Be Inimical, Imperil Country’s Democracy

Experts Say Government Support for Nigerian Media Will Be Inimical, Imperil Country’s Democracy

In spite of the waning economic fortunes of the Nigerian media, particularly occasioned by the fallouts of COVID-19, impeding its efforts to live up to its responsibility, many experts have cautioned against calling for government support to bailout the industry, contending that it may eventually put the media in chains. Such support they argue, will

In spite of the waning economic fortunes of the Nigerian media, particularly occasioned by the fallouts of COVID-19, impeding its efforts to live up to its responsibility, many experts have cautioned against calling for government support to bailout the industry, contending that it may eventually put the media in chains.

Such support they argue, will also be inimical to the survival of Nigeria’s boisterous media which over the years has put government’s action and authoritarian tendencies in check and may eventually imperil the country’s democracy.

Reeling out its actions in sponsoring laws that hampers the media, they contend that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be trusted to deploy resources to support the media without exacting its pound or flesh.

Publisher, Premium Times, Mr Dapo Olorunyomi in his keynote address to the 17th All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC), which ended last weekend in Abuja, the country’s capital, had called for government support to rescue the media from its economic crises and help it reposition to live up to its responsibility as agenda setters, stirring the hornet nests.

Speaking on the theme of the conference titled, “Media in Times of Crisis: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus,” Olorunyomi, who borrowed from the French and Australian model, where huge funds and other resources were deployed to support the respective country’s media, implored the Nigerian government to take a cue and also support the media.

In his words, “The French and the Scandinavians have a system of obligatory subsidy to the media annually and that does not make their media a groveling institution. Last year, France handed over €1 billion in direct and indirect financial assistance from the State to national and local newspapers and publications.

“According to the government figures, some 326 newspapers and publications were given direct financial support in 2015 totaling €77 million. Does anyone think this has muted the French Press? But it comes as a model that deserve attention and scrutiny.

“The Australian government has taken a sensible step with the initiative on News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code and my wise counsel to Mr. Lai Mohammed is to borrow a leaf here.

“This official initiative announced its case this way: “The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code will address concerns identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in its July 2019 report on digital platforms. This report found that a substantial loss of advertising revenue over the past 15 years has left many Australian news businesses struggling to survive. Spending on print advertising fell from $7.9 billion in 2005 to just under $1.9 billion in 2018 according to the ACCC. At the same time, digital platforms are thriving. Expenditure on online advertising in Australia rose from around $1 billion in 2005 to $8.8 billion in 2018 according to the ACCC.

“If the footprints of journalism have spread so wide, responding to the reality of the new times, to be sure, the ethical contexts demand an expanded meaning and implication. The central principle in ethics theory has always been a concern to make whole again, that which has been blemished.

“The next port of call therefore is a simple, easy walk to freedom! We ask the question why is the media behaving poorly? And ask again how we can fix the problem so that we can mitigate the possible harm.

“The problem can be anticipated, and a strategy of containment put in place to address it before things get worse. The point to constantly have in mind is that good journalism makes the whole ramification of society and unquestionably democracy do well.”

Also drawing allusion from the prognosis of Economics Professor, Julia Cage, the Premium Times publisher posited fixing the Nigerian media business model which is negating its growth.

“Economics professor Julia Cagé writing in her book, “Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy,”
argues that “There have never been as many information producers as there are today. Paradoxically, the media have never been in worse shape,” she then proposes a new business model for news organizations, inspired by a central idea: that news, like education, is a public good. Her model is inspired in part by major universities that combine commercial and nonprofit activities.

“Professor Cagé’s proposal is yet different from the nonprofit newsroom model because it is rooted in an advocacy for a change in tax rules and the stable provision of capital through long-term investments to give news organizations more flexibility while also decentralizing control.”

Arguing further, Olorunyomi says, “The simple argument I have made here is that media is central to democracy and that for the fructification of the values of democracy that can enhance good governance, promote freedom and democracy, we need to focus more attention on what is broken in our journalism that makes it inoperable to deliver the best values for democratic development. My contention is that it is a business model that has gone atrophy. I also argue that it can be fixed, and that the government in so far as it believes in democracy and development, has a major role to play as indeed the Australian government has shown by blazing a trail.”

He however agrees that the media has been forthright in dispatching its responsibilities over the years.

“If it contemplates into history, the Nigerian news media has earned a chest full of badges on account of its vigorous case for independence and democracy, its redoubtable stance against three decades of ruinous military dictatorship, its consensus for national unity after the civil war, its historical anti-corruption posture particularly through the fourth Republic, its strong public health campaigns through the Ebola, HIV, to the current COVID pandemic are all report cards of excellence for the media. So, what then is the problem?” Olorunyomi says, fingering inaccurate reporting for the 11 year old crisis in Sierra Leone where 70,000 were killed, the 100 day Rwandan genocide of 1994 that led to the death of 800,000 persons and the post election crisis in Kenya in which over 1000 were killed.

Olorunyomi call is coming against accusations that the Nigerian media had become enmeshed in the raging insecurity crises afflicting the country as terrorists, bandits and armed engulfing have seized the public space, holding the citizenry to ransome. He quoted humanitarian agencies as saying 10,000 persons have been killed in the 10 year old Boko Haram war in the northeast alone while 1.8 millions persons have been displaced with 50,000 citizens relocating to Niger republic in search of refugee status.

But Philosophy Professor, Akin Onigbinde, a retired teacher at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, says we have to be circumspect about seeking the support of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari which has shown its predilections to clobber the media and makes it buckle under.

“I’m surprised that Dapo made that kind of suggestion. Perhaps he has forgotten that in using the French and Australian examples that these are different climes where press freedom is unfettered. How can you use that for a government that has shown utter dislike for the media and is daily plotting to harmstring it,” he queries.

Onigbinde contends that Olorunyomi’s call is a recipe to render spineless the Nigerian media, regarded as one of Africa’s most vibrant.

“How can you ask a government that has not disguised its love for dictatorship and authoritarianism to support the media. It will only do it at its own dictate which will ultimately destroy the media and impair our efforts to build a virile democracy”

Onigbinde’s fears are also shared by former Punch Editor, Mr Gbemiga Ogunleye and Executive Director, International Press Centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade.

Ogunleye who’s particularly pigued by this proposal says, “Mr Olorunyomi’s suggestion does not suite our clime replete with so much dislike of the media by the government. How can we trust a government that is daily thinking of one law or the other to put the media in chains to also bail it out. This may be utopian,” reasons Ogunleye, a former provost, Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), insisting that “this is not workable here”.

Also miffed by this idea, Arogundade prefers that rather than calling on government to bailout the media, the civil society and independent international organisations should strike a partnership to rescue the media from collapse and strengthen it to perform its role of stoking the country’s democracy.

“It’s important that civil society must speak out against increasing attempts to harass the media and its professionals. It’s crucial for us all to support the media as a way of building our democracy,” he admonishes.

Veteran Journalist, Mr Ray Ekpu, a former editor in chief, Newswatch magazine, says it was appropriate that the Editors Guild “has chosen to beam the searchlight on the major crises, that our beloved nation is grappling with today.”

Ekpu who was chairman of the conference, says, “These issues are multi-faceted, interrelated and complex and are proving difficult to resolve because of our ethnic, regional and cultural idiosyncracies as well as the lack of political will by the ruling elite.”

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